THE BUDGET -- (House of Representatives - April 20, 2004)
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Ms. BERKLEY. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from South Carolina (Mr. Spratt) for allowing me to speak on this very critical issue. As he well knows, I voted for the first Bush tax cut, and I voted to eliminate estate taxes and to eliminate the marriage penalty tax, so I am hardly opposed to cutting taxes. But I do rise tonight to voice my strong objections to the Republican budget, which threatens increased deficits and neglects many of our Nation's top priorities in favor of continued and irresponsible tax cuts.
The President and the Republican leaders of the House talk about their commitment to reducing the deficit and the tax burdens on families, protecting the security of our Nation, guarding the Social Security Trust Fund and improving the health care and education systems in this country. However, when it comes to funding these important initiatives, their words are simply not supported by their deeds.
The 2005 Republican budget proposal is reckless, in my opinion, fiscally irresponsible, and filled with misguided budget priorities. Let me give some examples.
The Republican budget drastically cuts nearly all domestic programs after 2005, an interesting date since the election is 2004, including cuts to critical education and training programs, health care and environmental programs, and veterans' medical programs. Additionally, we are a country at war, yet in his budget the President provides no funding for the war in Iraq. This simply defies logic.
This Nation has gone from a projected $5.6 trillion surplus in 2001 to a projected $2.9 trillion deficit in 2011, as the gentleman so eloquently stated in his opening remarks. This year's deficit is fast approaching $500 billion and will only continue to grow under the GOP budget. Ultimately it is our American families that are going to pay now and will continue to pay for this administration's fiscal irresponsibility. American baby boomers and retirees will suffer greatly under this Republican budget. The Republican proposal spends the entire $1 trillion Social Security surplus from 2005 to 2009 by creating additional and unwise tax cuts. The total cost of the Republicans' latest tax cut is more than enough to make up for the Social Security and Medicare solvency for the next 75 years.
Foolish spending threatens the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of retirees in my home State of Nevada and millions of retirees across America, not to mention the financial security of future generations. But as my colleague from South Carolina knows, perhaps the most egregious cut of all are the cuts in funds to our veterans' programs.
As thousands of brave men and women are fighting for this country in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and elsewhere abroad, it is outrageous that the Republican budget calls for cuts in funding for veterans' programs.
Mr. Speaker, the House Republican budget provides $1.3 billion less than what the Committee on Veterans' Affairs on which I serve has determined is needed just to maintain vital health care programs for our veterans. All of these cuts are certain to result in decreased spending on long-term care programs, which veterans in Las Vegas and throughout the country depend on. Many aging veterans in Las Vegas require more care than their families can provide. Our veterans must know that they can count on our VA to supply the care they have earned through their military service.
Those on the front line who are sacrificing their personal safety should not have to worry that the VA budget cuts will deny them the quality health care they need and deserve. We must send them a message that we are indebted to their sacrifices and that we remain committed to our promises to increase funding levels to meet their needs in Las Vegas and throughout the Nation.
We have all heard Republicans talk about their commitment to education. Yet their budget provides $8.8 billion less than what is authorized for education programs in the Leave No Child Behind Act. This lack of funding will mean cuts in such vital initiatives like drop-out prevention programs and after-school programs. These programs are especially important to my district and the community of Las Vegas that I represent because we have one of the highest dropout rates in the Nation.
Republicans also shortchange higher education in their budget. The Republicans propose to freeze the Pell grant award level for the third year in a row, making the dream of higher education unattainable for thousands of lower- and middle-income students. These are the very people that I represent. They are first generation college goers who want to go to Nevada colleges and universities, and they cannot afford it without Pell grants.
Families in Las Vegas and across the country will receive little assistance in obtaining health care coverage under this budget. The Republican plan forces severe cuts in the Medicaid program, shifting most of the cost of Medicaid onto the States, many of which are already, like the State of Nevada, facing their own fiscal crises. In Nevada, this shift would result in children, the disabled, and families being cut out of the Medicare rolls, as well as reduce benefits and increase cost-sharing for those who need the assistance the most.
The Republican budget also cuts training for nurses. Without adequate training for nurses, Nevada, which has the lowest ratio of nurses to the population, will be unable to hire the trained nurses needed to provide quality care. But despite all of our needs, despite the cuts in education and veterans benefits and health care, all of the issues that make quality of life in this Nation, and certainly in my communities, important, the President has called for a nearly $900 million increase in funding for the Yucca Mountain project, which will result in 77,000 tons of toxic nuclear waste being dumped in Nevada less than 90 miles from Las Vegas.
The President's call for this additional funding flies in the face of his repeated promises to protect the security of the United States here at home in the wake of September 11. Under the Yucca Mountain project, thousands of shipments of nuclear waste would cross this Nation on their way to Nevada. One terrorist attack on a shipment could unleash high-level nuclear waste, the most deadly substance known to man, potentially threatening lives and causing billions of dollars in environmental damage.
The Republican budget is a blueprint for disaster. While the President and the Republican majority talk a good game, our veterans and our students and teachers and police officers and fire fighters, our nurses and our seniors will all suffer as a result of the misplaced priorities inherent in this 2005 Republican budget.
When I came to Congress, I came to represent the people of southern Nevada. If we do not speak up and if the rest of Congress does not join you in this clarion call to take another look at this budget and do what is right by our American citizens, who will speak out for them? I want to thank the gentleman from South Carolina for sharing with the American public exactly what is going on in this Chamber and hopefully changing minds so we can get some fiscal responsibility and do what is right for the people we represent.